Trip Report from our CA trip and first time to DL - July 2017!


DIS Veteran
Mar 12, 2008
I posted this in the DL Trip Reports forum but realized it should have probably gone here too!

This is my first trip report so bear with me! :)

I've got a ton of pictures (just uploaded 540 pics to my facebook album!) but am not sure how to set it all up like some of these cool trip reports here so I'll just keep it more simple. :)

Our family consists of myself, DH and our two kids who are 11 and 13. We live in NE Ohio and love to travel and have been all over. Last year we went to WDW, Universal, spent a week in Key West and camped on Dry Tortugas. We've been to WDW six times in 8 yrs I think. We've been out to the Grand Canyon and back, did a Canada/New England Trip and a ton of other random places. We also love camping and going to music festivals. DH and I have done Bonnaroo a few times which is probably my next favorite happy place on earth next to Disney! may think I'm joking but there are actually a lot of similarities, I wrote up a Disney/Bonnaroo comparison once! :) Some of our sooner than later trips are going to be a cruise (DH and I got married on one), a trip out to Glacier National Park and back hitting up various parks & sites on the way and a trip to New Orleans for DH and I.

We had an amazing time though and it was over WAY too fast. There was so much we didn't get to see! Normally we like to spend 2 wks or more on our vacations but we could only swing 10 days this time.

In 10 days, we walked just shy of 80 miles and it was our 2nd most expensive vacation ever. haha....I also gained only 1.5 lbs which I was super happy about, usually it's way more than that!

Day 1: Flight & Hollywood

Day 2: Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, Walk of Fame, etc..

Day 3: Universal Studios Hollywood

Day 4: Drive to San Diego....lunch at Laguna Beach, 1000 Steps Beach, Encinitas

Day 5: Moonlight Beach, downtown San Diego, Comic-con madness, Swami Beach sunset

Day 6: San Diego Zoo & Balboa Park

Day 7: Drive to Anaheim, Downtown Disney, swim at hotel

Day 8: Disney's California Adventure

Day 9: Disneyland

Day 10: Flight Home

1. LA was fun and interesting! There was some cool stuff to see but I would never want to live there. Traffic is insane and I felt like it was dirty. And out of all the places we've been, it's the place I've felt the most unsafe, especially with kids (way worse than NYC). That's not to say there weren't really nice areas because we saw them and drove through them (mainly the upscale areas & neighborhoods). But overall the main public and tourist areas we were in just felt a little unsafe and there was trash on the streets and highways almost everywhere we went that wasn't an upscale neighborhood. Which honestly surprised me because California is so progressive in other ways! I didn't even know about the law with plastic bags at stores which I thought was awesome and wish Ohio would get on board with that! I'm really glad we went though and would definitely go back, it's just not on my list of favorite cities.

Venice Beach was really cool and fun though. And the Venice canals - how beautiful! Definitely take time for a walk through them if you are in the area.

We stayed at an Airbnb in North Hollywood and it was in a great location, super close to the highway and Universal and not far to all the Hollywood attractions, we'd definitely stay there again.

Something else about Southern CA that I've been thinking about is that I had this preconceived notion that everyone out there was going to look like a model and be super attractive but I didn't feel that way at all. No more than any other big city we've been too. Sure there were young, hip, cute people but I felt like most people were pretty "normal" like they are everywhere else. I was pleasantly surprised though, I was worried I was going to feel like the frumpy midwestern mom from Ohio but didn't at all! haha

2. Universal Studios Hollywood - I actually didn't really want to go because we were just at the one in Florida for 3 days last year. I would have rather used the time and money on something else but the kids really really love it, so we went. It felt so much smaller and I hated taking those escalators down to the lower lot. It amazed me how they just build anywhere out there! We had fun though but nothing really stuck out to me as super different other than the Back Lot tour.

3. The weather in California IS amazing though! I was laughing at random comments I heard about how it was so hot out. I don't think it got over 85 while we were there and there is NO humidity at all and almost always a breeze. The day we went to the beach in Encinitas it was 74 and felt awesome! Usually I'm melting at the beach in crazy humidity on the east coast. Here the sun is hot but the air is cooler if that makes sense. And the water where we swam was much warmer than I thought it would be. I kept hearing a lot of comments about the heat while at DL/DCA and DH and I kept chuckling and saying clearly these people have never been to WDW in the summer! lol....we thought the weather was great! Granted it was hot if you were standing in the sun for a long time but it wasn't unbearable like it is in FL. And you can actually BREATHE (no humidity) which is always a plus! :)

4. San Diego is so beautiful! I can see why people want to move there. I really wish we had more time here specifically, I felt like there was so much we didn't get to see. We got a small glimpse at all the Comic Con madness as well which was fun and it would be great to go back and actually go to it some year and spend more time exploring. I was mad at myself for not realizing that when scheduling the trip. I thought it was going to interfere with our weekend but it was fine. We even drove into downtown that Saturday evening and walked around a bit in the masses outside of it looking at costumes. We are actually big comic con people too and DH and DS really get into cosplay so it was fun to see. They'd both love to come back specifically for the con.

On the way to San Diego we stopped for lunch in Laguna Beach and went to 1000 Steps Beach. I had read about it online but it's a small local beach that is only accessible by about 300 steps straight down. There's also a sea cave at the south end of the beach but of course it was high tide when we stopped and couldn't get into it. But the beach was so pretty and holy cow those steps! I didn't think I was going to make it back up my legs were shaking so bad by the end! It was fun though.

5. We LOVED Encinitas where our Airbnb was. It's about 20 min north of San Diego and is a small beach town. We'd definitely stay here again if we went back. It's such a cool chill little town and the beaches we went to (Moonlight and Swami) were really nice. Our airbnb host let us borrow some chairs and boogie boards which was so awesome!

6. The San Diego Zoo was a lot of fun but I think it's a little overrated. The best thing it had going for it is that it had almost every animal you can think of. They also cater to tourists, lots of shows and activities, more so than other zoos. But the zoo is WAY smaller than Columbus's for example (the big one in our state) and you can tell that a lot of the enclosures were way too small. The Zoo also had a terrible layout in certain areas and the signage compared to the map was awful. We got turned around so many times and this is coming from someone who is really good with directions! We had a great time though. We go to a lot of zoos since DD wants to major in Zoology and is so into animals so I think I was just expecting the best of the best with this zoo and it wasn't quite that. Still a lot of fun though!

7. I was a little shocked at the amount of homeless people though. They were everywhere in both LA and especially San Diego, it's not something we see often at home in Ohio and it made us sad. We saw tents set up under almost every bridge you go under and other random places on the sides of the roads. I guess though if you are going to be homeless you'd want to be somewhere there is perfect weather.

8. Ok now onto Disney! I was really curious on how it would compare with WDW since we consider ourselves vets and overall we really liked it and would definitely go back. Especially California Adventure, I think that was our favorite park. It really reminded me of how Hollywood Studios used to be about 10 yrs ago before they started closing so much and working on changes but also with a little of Epcot and AK thrown in.

9. Maxpass worked awesome though! I had prescanned our tickets in so as soon as we walked in I bought it and we were good to go! I had planned on getting the photopass anyway. We don't usually do it at WDW anymore since we've been so many times but really wanted to here. And since we were only going for 2 days, the cost wasn't too terrible. But I felt like it helped us really maximize our time. We got almost immediate fast pass times all day and then were able to get another as soon as we got in line. I felt like we were pulling them constantly. We were even able to go on most of our favorites 2 and sometimes 3 times.

10. DCA: Cars Land was amazing and I've never really cared much for those movies! DH said how he's never felt so immersed into a movie as he did there. RSR's was super fun and we made sure to ride it during the day and night. It was almost identical to Test Track though with different a different theme of course. The new Guardians of the Galaxy ride was so fun too. And the crazy part is I'm named after the "Brandy, You're a Fine Girl" song (it was my parents song while they were dating) and it was SO awesome hearing my song being played super loud outside of the ride and in the gift shop too! DH took a really funny picture of me in front of the ride when I heard the song, I'll have to see if I can attach it. Anyway, I didn't miss Tower of Terror all that much. I like both themes but I don't really get upset when things change or leave too much.

Bugs Land was super cute, the kids would have really enjoyed it had they been younger. It's Tough to Be a Bug is one of my son's favorite. The kids went on California Screamin and loved that. I don't love giant coasters, I'll go if I have to but they are old enough now that they just go on their own. We never made it on the swings, Goofy's Sky School and Mickey's Wheel which was fine. DD went on Grizzly Run by herself, the rest of us weren't in the mood to get wet so the single rider line really came in handy. The Mike and Sully ride was really fun. We love the Laugh Floor at MK but wouldn't mind seeing it change to something like this for something new. It was so fun to do Animation Academy again! The kids really like it and we've missed it at Hollywood Studios.

And Soarin! I'm not sure if WDW has this new version yet, (it wasn't there where we were there last summer) but we loved it and went on it twice. I had heard that the distortion was bad on the sides and once I sat on the far left but I didn't have that issue.

Before the trip we went back and forth on making an ADR but ended up just eating random snacks all day. We had some corn dogs and the bacon mac n cheese cone, got some goodies at Flo's V-8 cafe as well. Had some ice cream a couple of different times but no major meals.

We caught the end of the Pixar parade which was really fun and reminded me of one they had at Hollywood Studios on our first trip in 2008. And we got fast passes for the 10pm World of Color show and really enjoyed it! All in all a really fun day and we also walked 14 miles.

Speaking of that our hotel was .8 miles from the park and we walked to and from the first day but the next morning we were all super tired and had a huge day ahead of us so we used uber for the 1st time (see our funny story about that below!)

11. Disneyland really did feel like Magic Kingdom but just a slightly smaller version with a lot more crammed in. I felt like if you didn't look too close you couldn't tell you weren't at MK. Except for the teeny tiny castle which felt so strange! It was cute and quaint though. Although DD kept pointing out that when we are at MK how she would use the castle as a frame of reference on where we were and which way to go but you couldn't do that here because the castle is so small. Now that she is older on our last few trips to WDW she likes to take the lead and I think always used the castle to orientate herself but she couldn't do that here!

I had read that it seemed like most people like Main Street at DL a little better but I didn't really notice that big of a difference. We had planned to make it back to Great Moments but never did which I'm bummed about.

As for the rides. I liked Splash Mountain and Pirates better here but the others were too similar to pick a better one. I LOVED the outside of Small World was so much better -it's so pretty! I did not care for the insertion of Disney characters into the ride though which MK doesn't have. At least they didn't on our last trip there last summer. I thought the dolls just looked too different and looked like an after thought thrown in there. I like the pureness and non-Disneyness of the ride if that makes sense. Even if it's a Disney ride at Disney! haha

I like the outside of Haunted Mansion at MK better, feels more spooky I think. Loved the Hatbox ghost but DD was disappointed that they didn't have one of her favorite parts which is the section in the MK ride of all the staircases going every which way. That's been her favorite "room" since she was 4 so she was bummed they didn't have it. I did like that cars in Space Mountain better here...the 2 across. It felt smoother although still a little jerky for my likes but other than that it felt the same. Loved the few new scenes we got to catch in Star Tours and the Star Wars Launch Bay Not sure if that is temporary or what but it was fun to see all of the costumes and props! It was also nice to see a similar version of ToonTown again. MK's was a little different but it's been gone awhile now so it was fun to see it again. DS loves the Roger Rabbit movie so that ride was a big hit with him.

The rides that DL has that MK doesn't didn't impress me much other than Indiana Jones, which we all really liked. The Nemo submarine and Matterhorn....I could never go on those again and be fine. I don't love enclosed spaces and the Matterhorn while I get is a classic iconic ride is just too old and jerky for me. The other smaller ones like Alice, Pinocchio and Toad's Wild Ride were cute and fun but nothing that I'd even miss. It was fun to go on Snow White again, that one has been gone from MK for awhile now. We never made it on Peter Pan. That's one we always fastpass at MK and the wait never seemed to go under 30-40 min. We also never made it on the Storybook Canal Boats. We tried a few times but the wait was either too long for us or it was closed for some reason.

We unfortunately didn't see Fantasmic, the fireworks or the Electrical Parade. We've seen the Electrical parade a million times though so really didn't care about that. And wanted to do Fantasmic and the fireworks but we only had the one day and we're on a roll with rides and the kids voted to go on some favorites again so we skipped them. This was definitely a ride heavy day which was to be expected since we only had the one day and who knows when we'll be back.

12. The things we didn't care for were how the rides would randomly shut down all the time for no reason. It was crazy! I had read this many times but thought people were maybe exaggerating a little but no, it happened way too much! It got really frustrating! And it seemed to happen more at DL than DCA. The only positive thing about this is our fastpasses would convert to those "multiple experience" fastpasses that could be used at any time so I think by the time it got dark we had like 4 or 5 of those piled up to use on our favorites at the end.

The other thing was the queue's left a lot to be desired compared to WDW. That's not to say there weren't some really good ones because there were, but I felt like a lot of them were sort of boring and there were quite a few that were out in the sun with no cover or fans for additional airflow. I felt like I was at our local amusement park at times when it came to that. Not sure if it's just because it's FL where the summer weather is more brutal but WDW seems to be more on top of that.

The worst thing is that we encountered quite a few grumpy cast members which is unheard of when it comes to our Disney experiences! We also had a photopass guy that was really rude to us. DH kept joking that apparently they didn't get the same memo that the Florida employees got. I was really bummed out about this because the above and beyond service is one thing I love love about Disney and always brag to non-Disney people about.

As for dining, we had a reservation at Cafe Orleans for lunch and it was really good, we liked it. We got the braised beef which came with sweet potato waffle fries, a salad, the 3 cheese monte cristo and the pomme frites and all just shared everything. We also got a poutine flat bread at Red Rose Tavern later which was fantastic. Other than that we just got random snacks again.

*So that's pretty much it with Disney! We had a really fun time and I am SO glad we want although I don't feel the urge to rush back there. DCA is honestly more of a draw than DL is for me when it comes to the two parks. I think WDW is still going to be our home park for sure. I think it's just because there is so much more to do and it's easier to get to. I would like to come back to DL though when all the new changes they just announced are done.

****So I have a few funny stories about our trip that happened to DS that I thought I would share!

So on the day we went to the Griffith Observatory (which finding parking is a nightmare by the way!), we are parked almost at the bottom of the loop and have a long walk up the hill. Almost as soon as we start walking DS's flip flop breaks. Of course we have no other shoes with us and no way to fix it. We debated on leaving but it was such a hassle finding parking and we really didn't have another time to come back....I said let's just go for it and hope the gift shop sells flip flops. So there's our 11 yr old hoofing it up the hill with one shoe on. As soon as we get up there I immediately go to the gift shop and of course no flip flops. I ask an employee for some duct tape thinking I'm just going to tape it to his foot but they only had packaging tape which I used anyway and it worked! We literally just went around his foot and the flip flop about 10 times and it held up for the rest of our visit! Lol

Then onto San Diego....we were walking around downtown in the comic con masses and DS happens to glance over towards the building we were walking past just as a homeless guy pulled his pants down and squatted down. All I hear is "oh no....i just saw that guys ding-a-ling". I think he was traumatized for a second but now he laughs about it.

Those are his two big stories he's been telling when someone asks how his vacation went!

****And our funny 1st Uber experience story!

So we got one on the second day at Disney from our hotel. It was almost a mile walk and while we walked to and from the day before and was fine we also walked 14 miles the day at DCA. We had another huge day ahead of us and were exhausted so we were trying to save our feet a little.

So this guy shows up and DH jumps in the front and I get in the back with the kids and the car is so disgustingly dirty!! And smells like farts so bad! It was so obvious he let one rip before we got in. DH immediately rolls the window down and I can tell by the look on DS's face that he is two seconds from yelling out "who farted" or "what's that smell?" The guy also had some completely inappropriate talk show on and was clueless there were kids on the car so DH just started talking real loud. Thank goodness it was only a 5 minute drive! But the guy actually had a really good rating and great reviews! I really didn't get it! Does that mean most people have filthy cars with trash piled up inside? Ugh...we all went and immediately washed our hands.

But then on the way home we tried again and got this young gal who couldn't have been nicer. Turns out she was from Alaska and went to Kent State which is where DH and I went (and met) and then now lives in LA with her boyfriend but said she really misses Ohio so that was fun to talk to her for the short ride.

So that's about it....thank you all for reading! :)



Anything can be fun if you try.
Jul 14, 2014
Thanks for the info.

I'm reading this and everything else I can in preparation for our first DL trip late this September. Just me and the wife. We are WDW veterans with no kids. Do you have any suggestions for a fellow first time DL traveler?


DIS Veteran
Mar 12, 2008
Thanks for the info.

I'm reading this and everything else I can in preparation for our first DL trip late this September. Just me and the wife. We are WDW veterans with no kids. Do you have any suggestions for a fellow first time DL traveler?
How many days are you planning on spending at the parks?


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